Narrative strategies in the book of Ecclesiastes
The working premise of this thesis is that the book of Ecclesiastes can be studied with confidence as a narrative text for the purpose of analysis. The first part, then, seeks to flesh out those qualities of the text that are narrative qualities: the presence of events, first-person narration (autobiography in particular), plot and motif. The second part explores the strategy of the frame narrator, who provides a structure that both limits and opens up possibilities for readers. That narrator is in a position of tension in that on the one hand he validates Qoheleth's radicalism by appearing to find his words worth relating. Even words of praise are offered. On the other hand, from the summary of the epilogue, I argue at length, it is clear that the frame narrator did not agree with Qoheleth's approach to wisdom, God and tradition, bound as they were to his wholly different epistemology. Further, the strategy of framing occurs on many levels, and one of its consequences is the bringing into question of the reader's relation to the framed material, as well as the relation of the framer to the one framed. The interpretive possibilities arising from the tension in these narratorial relationships are explored in detail. The third part explores the strategies of Qoheleth, the disillusioned rationalist and story-teller. Here is addressed the fact that in reading Ecclesiastes an interaction seemingly takes place, one in which the reader feels the concern of identity and of the formation of Qoheleth's character. In the guise of Solomon that concern is ironic (almost satirical) and somewhat playful. In the establishment of his self as the central concern of his narrative, Qoheleth shows that although he passionately observes the world's transience and absurdity he desires (again with irony) that his image would be fixed and remembered. After exploring such elements of self-expression, the linguistic characteristics and ideological categories of Qoheleth's quest are surveyed. Included in this investigation are the element of physicality in Qoheleth's language and the identification of the actors in the quest; the Subject, Object and Power (or Sender) in particular. Although I do not categorically argue that Ecclesiastes can only be understood as narrative, the point of the whole is to experiment with what happens when a text is investigated with confidence in its narrative quality. This redresses an interpretive imbalance in Qoheleth-studies in that while there are some scholars who refer vaguely to Ecclesiastes as a story (although usually by implication), and others who make real assumptions about Ecclesiastes' narrative quality, virtually none attempt to critically examine that quality or to demonstrate it with any degree of conclusiveness with the aid of narrative criticism.